Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Fallacy of Sinhala Privilege

The Sinhala are privileged, I’ve been told.

 So one must respond; how do you know? Did television and papers say so?

Spending time in Sri Lanka, I have found that the current Sinhala supremacist state broadcasted via media is much different than the experience of being Sinhala on the ground. 

Neo-colonial appropriation is as strong as ever, as is the lack of interest in indigenous heritage. It takes more than being Sinhalese to receive social value and worth.  There are more people in this country appropriating western forms of dress and professionalism to gain social worth, than there are people trying to appropriate authentic Sinhala customs.

Traveling beyond Colombo out into the south, where Sinhala families predominate. Native Sinhala tongue is common and Buddhist temples fill the streets like corner stores.  

                                Photo by Natale Danko 2013
“Let’s not forget, we live on a globe where economics and a neo-colonial underpinning impacts the world; where wealth, prestige and a corporate glow gets you love, value and worth.”

But, it doesn’t look like it matters how good your Sinhala sounds or how authentic the Sinhala garb; bare feet with a sarong.

Political economy runs things out in the rural parts as well. Wealth, prestige and a corporate glow promise  more value and worth than touting your Sinhalese lineage.

So these days I take this claim that the Sinhala are privileged and frown, especially when it's related to social worth. Sure, there are a few that identify as Sinhala who are extremely privileged in Sri Lanka. But, there are also the many that are underprivileged; under-paid and devalued.  How does one account for this?

It is essential to have an over-lapping dialogue about privilege. There are places where the concern about inequity in the nation overlap and goes beyond the dialogue of ethnic difference.Exclusively engaging with one’s ethnic group, will only give you a limited understanding of the ways members of the Sinhala community, especially those who retain indigenous practices, are de-valued as well. You will miss out in hearing the stories of the Sinhala migrant worker, farmer, fisher-man, garbage cleaner, the man who sells pineapples for a living, house-wife or under-paid employee. Inequitable access to “Privilege” is a common burden and struggle that members of all ethnic groups experience.   

As one observe human beings in Sri Lanka, the way they create value structures in their minds, the way they define some with more value and worth than others... yes, ethnicity is at times a cue. But social roles, behaviors, the color of your skin, the sex you were born with are factors that too deem you inferior or superior. 

And, I have found that the social cues that promise privilege in Sri Lanka often supersede one's ethnic affiliation. Something I see everyday as I observe the continued struggles of individuals who identify as Sinhala. 

Photo Natale Danko 2013

This piece specifically refers to the following statement:

“The social, political, and economic arrangements of a society can place some people in a privileged position relative to others, particularly with respect to important goods, like institutional representation, economic resources, and even less tangible goods like “respect” and “welfare”

My piece explores whether tangible goods like economic resources or less tangible goods like "respect" and "welfare" are promised to those who identify as Sinhala in Sri Lanka.

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